Moving Beyond “Buttonology” in eLearning

It is that time of year again – the start of a new semester. And along with the start of a new semester will come a great many training sessions and workshops for faculty and teaching assistants on how to use their organization’s learning management system. Inevitably, such sessions will focus on the mechanics of adding course content, using virtual classrooms, posting and replying to discussion board messages, setting up quizzes, downloading assignments, and posting grades. Don’t get me wrong; these are all important tasks that those teaching/facilitating online courses need to master. However, if these training sessions are limited to the mechanics of the software a great opportunity will be lost.

For example, knowing the mechanics of how to set up and use discussion boards is important in an online course. But the following is more important:

  • Knowing how to construct discussion questions that will encourage meaningful interchanges and deeper levels of learning;
  • Knowing how to facilitate online discussions in such a way as to create a safe and respectful environment that encourages wide participation.
  • Knowing how to ask probing questions that challenge learners to think critically and express themselves clearly;
  • Knowing when to jump in to discussions and when to hold back;
  • Knowing how to design and use a discussion-grading rubric that will fairly and objectively assess the quality of a learner’s contributions to online discussions.

The same type of logic could be carried out for any of the tools used in a learning management system. What a tool is and how it works could be combined with why you would use it, and when you would use it, and to what end you would use it.

I have been involved in a great many online software training projects. What we try to avoid when teaching people about software is providing them with a straight run down of the various buttons (known derisively as “buttonology”). We try to teach software by presenting typical tasks that a user would do using that software. This way the buttons have meaning. They are learning the various buttons in the context of completing typical and meaningful tasks (just like the real world). This is often referred to as taking a “workflow” approach to learning software.

In much the same way, I think faculty and teaching assistant LMS training could be improved by avoiding a straight buttonology approach and infusing technology with a little pedagogy. Instead of learning the various buttons in the workflow, they would be learning them in the “teaching flow.”

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